Top 11 Things To Do in Arcos de la Frontera, Cádiz
Updated: Aug 23, 2021
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There are plenty of pueblos blancos in southern Spain to sink your teeth into. In fact, if you're planning a road trip in southern Spain, you can drive along one of the many white villages routes and explore some of the most beautiful villages in Spain. We drove from Jerez de la Frontera to visit one of the most dramatic white villages in Andalusia - Arcos de la Frontera. This white village sits on the edge of a cliff overlooking the surrounding landscape and the Río Guadalete, which makes for some incredible views when you make it to the top. Despite it being a small village, there are surprisingly a lot of things to do in Arcos de la Frontera, and many people choose to go to Arcos on day trips from cities like Seville and Cádiz.
The very narrow streets make it a nightmare to drive around the village, so if you're looking for parking in Arcos de la Frontera I would recommend using a parking garage that's only a 15 minute walk from the old town and is very cheap for the day. The walk is uphill though, but it flattens out when you get to the tourism office - make sure you wear trainers and not sandals! Something else you should take into account when visiting Arcos is the heat. Since the village is inland, it gets unbearably hot in the middle of the day, so if you can visit earlier in the morning you should. We visited at noon and ended up leaving after only a few hours because we were practically melting. Regardless of the temperature, it's a lovely white village in Andalusia to visit whatever time of the day you can manage to go. Here are my recommendations for the top things to do in Arcos de la Frontera to help you plan your trip:
1. Stop at the Oficina de Turismo
Normally I wouldn't put a tourism office on my list of places to stop at, but this one I am doing. Arcos de la Frontera's Oficina de Turismo is located at the beginning of the old town, and we came across it on our walk up the hill from the parking garage. The reason I've included it on my list of things to do in Arcos de la Frontera is because they provide you with a fantastic map of the village which shows you where all of the main points of interest are and it gives you a brief description of each one as well. In total, the map lists 37 things things to do in Arcos, and also shows you where other nearby white villages are in case you want to visit a few more.
2. Explore the Streets
Yes there are a lot of things to do in Arcos de la Frontera, which can easily keep you busy for the whole day. But something that isn't always included in an itinerary is to take the time to walk around the streets which are lined with whitewashed houses and historic monuments. I find that you can really get a feel for a village and its heritage by doing this. We came across a number of charming restaurants and artisan shops while walking between the points of interest, and found some very picturesque streets too.
3. Break for Tapas
Of course walking around in the hot Spanish sun can be a lot of work, so for me a break for a bit of tapas is an absolute must. Andalusia is the home of tapas, so you really can't pass on the opportunity to order some. We stopped at Tapas at Taberna Jóvenes Flamencos which was a very short walk from the tourism office and decorated in red and white polka-dots so you can't miss it. They have a great selection of larger meals and tapas dishes, including some that are typical of Arcos itself.
4. Basilica de Santa María de la Asunción
The first main attraction you'll come across if you're walking into the old town from the direction of the tourism office is Basilica de Santa María de la Asunción (the back of it anyways). Visiting this church is one of the top things to do in Arcos de la Frontera, and it's equally impressive on all sides. Parts of it date back to the 14th century when it was constructed on top of an Arab mosque, making it the oldest church in Arcos. It was consistently added to over the centuries and you can now see the differences in architectural styles in the exterior and interior.
5. Plaza del Cabildo
The front entrance of Basilica de Santa María de la Asunción is located in Plaza del Cabildo, which is unfortunately used as a parking lot (don't park here it's not worth the stress). The plaza is the heart of the old town, and there are a few points of interest you can cross off your list of things to do in Arcos de la Frontera here too. Aside from the medieval church, the plaza is home to Castillo Ducal, the town hall nestled away in a small corner, an incredible viewpoint where you can take in the surrounding landscape, and the Parador de Arcos de la Frontera which is a reconstructed 16th century magistrates house where you can stop for a drink or stay the night.
6. Castillo Ducal
I was really excited to visit Castillo Ducal since it sits right on the edge of the cliff and looked really interesting from the photos I'd seen. Unfortunately, the castle isn't open to the public, so the entrance is as far as you can get. The castle was first constructed in the 11th century when it was used as a military fortress in the Muslim period. Under Christian rule in the 15th century, it became the residence of the Duke of Arcos. The best view of the castle is from below the village where you can see the true extent of its walls and how intimidating it would have been to people arriving at Arcos.
7. Mirador Plaza del Cabildo
One of the best views from Arcos de la Frontera is at Mirador Plaza del Cabildo, situated in Plaza del Cabildo. On one side you get an amazing view of the landscape, and on the other you can see the rest of the village along the cliff which is mesmerizing to look at. When we visited there was no one else there (probably because it was the middle of the day and very hot), so we were able to enjoy the view and get a bit of a cool breeze too. This viewpoint gets a special marking on the map and is one of the top things to do in Arcos de la Frontera.
8. Convento de la Encarnación
Sitting just outside of Plaza del Cabildo is the entrance to Convento de la Encarnacion. It sits in Callejon de las Monjas (Alley of the Nuns), which is a very narrow passageway next to the Basilica de Santa María de la Asunción that cars actually attempt to drive through without scratching their car. Honestly, it's one of the narrowest streets I've ever seen and everyone was struggling to get through it. The building the convent is in dates back to the 15th century, but didn't become a convent until the 16th century, and played an important role in the development of Arcos.
9. Ring the Bell at Convento de la Mercedarias
If you're looking for unique things to do in Arcos de la Frontera, you need to stop at Convento de la Mercedarias. This convent was founded in 1642, and was donated by the first Lady of Arcos. It's actually the last remaining cloistered convent in the village, but that's not the only interesting aspect of it. At certain times of the day you'll find the front door open, and if you walk through it will bring you to a small room in the entrance. On the wall there's a menu of homemade pastries which have been prepared by the nuns, and you can order some by ringing a bell and talking through a small window to one of the nuns. Make sure you have cash with you since they obviously don't take card, and the nearest cash machine is a long trek back down the hill out of the old town.
10. Palacio del Mayorazgo
This narrow building may not look like much, and to be honest I almost walked past it while trying to figure out where we were on the map, but Palacio del Mayorazgo dates back to the 17th century and is now home to the House of Culture, where you can take in some exhibitions. It was unfortunately closed when we visited the village, but it comes highly recommended in terms of things to do in Arcos de la Frontera, so if you have time and the doors are open you should pop in! You will also find the Iglesia de San Pedro, a 14th century church, only a few steps away.
11. Mirador de Abades
Mirador de Abades is one of the most photographed spots in the village, and is at the top end of the best things to do in Arcos de la Frontera. It's another gorgeous viewpoint overlooking the surrounding landscape, so you're probably wondering why my photo is facing the village and not away from it. Basically, the photos I had seen of the arch had lovely flowers all around it and it looked beautiful. But when we arrived there were no decorations so I thought it looked nicer from the other side with the flowers next to it instead. It's also considered a romantic spot due to a sign at the entrance which says "Bésame en este arco" (Kiss me in this arch).
Arcos de la Frontera is one of the larger of the pueblos blancos in Andalusia, and also one of the most dramatic. If you have time, there's a reservoir (Embalse de Arcos) nearby which you can kayak or paddelboard on as well. There are plenty of unique and historic things to do in Arcos de la Frontera to keep you busy, so make sure to add it to your list of places to see in Andalusia. The Province of Cádiz has a lot more to offer than the Sherry Triangle and its white sandy beaches, and there are definitely plenty of white villages to explore, such as Olvera - Arcos de la Frontera just happens to be the gateway to them.
If you're thinking of touring the Province of Cádiz or are looking for some unique day trips from Seville, Arcos isn't the only interesting stop you can make. Aside from the city of Cádiz itself, you can stop by places like Jerez de la Frontera, Sanlucar de Barrameda, and El Puerto de Santa María which all have a very rich history and quite a lot of things to do as well. And if you're thinking of travelling throughout southern Spain, there are plenty of unique places in Andalusia for you to visit.
Drop me a comment below and let me know what you think of Arcos de la Frontera. I would also love to hear if anyone has visited some other pueblos blancos in southern Spain. Don't forget to follow me on Instagram and keep in touch!